The Blood of Flowers
by Anita Amirrezvani
The Blood of Flowers: A Novel

Anita Amirrezvani's debut novel, The Blood of Flowers, tells the story of a young woman in 17th-century Iran with a passion for knotting rugs. Her life is thrown into an uproar when her father dies, and she and her mother must depend on the kindness of wealthy relatives and hope that the young woman finds a wealthy husband. The Blood of Flowers is superbly written and a moving story, sure to entrance readers.

Anita Amirrezvani was inspired to write her first novel, The Blood of Flowers, by a Persian carpet her father gave her when she was a teenager. She imagined the life of the carpet maker, and crafted the tale of a young woman in 17th-century Iran. She has a passion for rug making when she grows up in her small village, but when her father suddenly dies, she and her mother move to the city to live with a wealthy relative who works in the Shah's carpet-making workshop.

The carpets are a primary theme of The Blood of Flowers -- the title refers to dyes that come from flowers -- but stories play a major role as well. The narrator's mother is known for her storytelling abilities, and Amirrezvani weaves those stories into the narrative.

The Blood of Flowers is lush and lyrically written, a historical novel that transports the reader to ancient Iran. It's also an engrossing read, and doesn't aim to educate with historical details, but rather to entertain. And Amirrezvani succeeds at this admirably; The Blood of Flowers is fantastic.

The Time Traveler's Wife
by Audrey Niffenegger

'The Time Traveler's Wife' by Audrey Niffenegger

The story of Henry, who involuntarily travels through time, and Clare, the woman who loves him for almost her entire life. This love story will draw you in and make you want to go back and read parts of the novel again and again.

If you read the back of The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger you may wonder whether it is science fiction or romance. It is neither. This is not your average time travel fantasy involving a machine and scientists eagerly trying to break the space-time continuum. In fact, Henry DeTamble wishes he did not travel through time. He does so involuntarily, and when he does, he wakes up in another place and time, naked, nauseous and ravenously hungry. Henry's time travel drives the story, but is not really what the story is about.

The Time Traveler's Wife is about love. It is not, however, a romance novel, or anything close to it. The novel pushes on philosophical questions of meaning and purpose. It is built around connections and longings. At the center, there is love, but there is also a lot of real life description--family tensions, punk rock shows, jobs, friendships. Niffenegger describes the world so realistically that you will find yourself believing that some people are actually plagued with involuntary time travel. If you are like me, you'll also wish Henry and Clare were your friends.

One of the best things about The Time Traveler's Wife is the way it is told from two perspectives. It also does not follow linear time. The structure mimics the lives of the main characters. In doing so, it enhances the empathy you feel for them.

I highly recommend The Time Traveler's Wife for anyone who wants a compelling read that will give you much to think about and feel.

The Secret Life of Bees
by Sue Monk Kidd

'The Secret Life of Bees' by Sue Monk Kidd
Set in the South during the 1960s, this coming of age story deals with race, love and Lily Owen's search for a connection with her mother who died when she was young. It's an especially good summer read, when you can imagine sipping Coke on a porch and smelling jasmine.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is the story of Lily, a teenager on a peach farm in South Carolina whose mother died when she was young and whose father is abusive. In practice, Lily is raised by the black housekeeper, Rosaleen. When Rosaleen gets in a fight with some white men while she is going into town to register to vote, Lily and Rosaleen decide to take off together. They end up in a unique community that is the perfect place for Lily to look for her mother and learn to love herself.

The descriptions, characters and plot mix together to make The Secret Life of Bees a honey-sweet reading treat. Southern summer nights come alive in this novel, and you can almost taste the Coke with peanuts floating in it. The characters are well developed and interesting. There is enough suspense to keep The Secret Life of Bees from becoming too introspective as well.

Race issues run through the novel. Lily's relationships with black women and men and the town's willingness to ignore them are not entirely realistic; however, The Secret Life of Bees does a good job of conveying the underlying tension and inequalities that existed in the South in the 1960s.

The Secret Life of Bees also explores feminine spirituality. While this was not the strongest thread in the book, it worked well enough with the characters and events not to be a serious weakness.

I recommend The Secret Life of Bees. It is a wonderful debut novel that makes a quick and thoughtful weekend read.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
by Rebecca Wells

'Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood' by Rebecca Wells
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood is a beautiful story of one woman's quest to reconcile with and understand her mother by delving into the secrets contained in her sisterhood notebook. This Southern story will make you laugh and cry.

Wells is a Louisiana-born Seattle actress and playwright; her loopy saga of a 40-year-old player in Seattle's hot theater scene who must come to terms with her mama's past in steamy Thornton City, Louisiana, reads like a lengthy episode of Designing Women written under the influence of mint juleps and Faulkner's Absalam, Absalom!.

The Ya-Yas are the wild circle of girls who swirl around the narrator Siddalee's mama, Vivi, whose vivid voice is "part Scarlett, part Katharine Hepburn, part Tallulah." The Ya-Yas broke the no-booze rule at the cotillion, skinny-dipped their way to jail in the town water tower, disrupted the Shirley Temple look-alike contest, and bonded for life because, as one says, "It's so much fun being a bad girl!" Siddalee must repair her busted relationship with Vivi by reading a half-century's worth of letters and clippings contained in the Ya-Ya Sisterhood's packet of "Divine Secrets." It's a contrived premise, but the secrets are really fun to learn. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

by Chris Bohjalian

'Midwives' by Chris Bohjalian
This Oprah Book Club pick tells about a midwife on trial for manslaughter after a home delivery goes wrong. Told from the viewpoint of the midwife's daughter, this mystery deals with love, family, birth and death as the family works through the consequences of one tragic night.

In Midwives, Chris Bohjalian chronicles the events leading up to the trial of Sibyl Danforth, a respected midwife in the small Vermont town of Reddington, on charges of manslaughter. It quickly becomes evident, however, that Sibyl is not the only one on trial--the prosecuting attorney and the state's medical community are all anxious to use this tragedy as ammunition against midwifery in general; this particular midwife, after all, an ex-hippie who still evokes the best of the flower-power generation, is something of an anachronism in 1981.

Through it all, Sibyl, her husband, Rand, and their teenage daughter, Connie, attempt to keep their family intact, but the stress of the trial--and Sibyl's growing closeness to her lawyer--puts pressure on both marriage and family. Bohjalian takes readers through the intricacies of childbirth and the law, and by the end of Sibyl Danforth's trial, it's difficult to decide which was more harrowing--the tragic delivery or its legal aftermath. Narrated by a now adult Connie, Midwives moves back and forth in time, fitting vital pieces of information about what happened that night like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into its complicated plot. As Connie looks back on her mother's trial, she is still trying to understand what happened--not on the night of the disaster--but in the months and years that followed.

The Splendor of Silence
by Indu Sundaresan

'The Splendor of Silence' by Indu Sudaresen
Splendor of Silence is the story of a young woman and the secretive American soldier she meets in India. It is romantic and passionate, but doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of life under British rule. The author, Indu Sundaresan, skillfully weaves romance with historical fiction, making for a satisfying, poignant and highly-recommended read.

Splendor of Silence is a beautifully written and moving story about Mila, a young woman in India, and Sam, a young American soldier who is on a secretive mission. Their paths intersect in a small kingdom in India in 1942—a time of political tumult in a country still under British rule. Both Mila and Sam are forced to confront the restraints and realities of race, caste, nationality and family loyalty.

The plot sounds like a clichéd romance, complete with star-crossed lovers, exotic locale, and disapproving elders. Sundaresan, though, is careful to avoid sentimentality or cliché. She treats all of her characters, however flawed, with respect, and their decisions and sacrifices are surprising but believable. Splendor of Silence also serves as an unflinching examination of British racism and caste identity as well as the promise and cost of the Nationalism movement, led by Ghandi. The magical and detailed descriptions of local Indian culture and landscape contrast with the artificial, rigid order of the British administration. Despite, or perhaps because of, the historical realism, Sundaresan’s story is absorbing and romantic, and a pure pleasure to read.

Indu Sundaresan’s previous two novels were international bestsellers, and readers would be wise to pick up a copy of Splendor of Silence and figure out why.

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons
by Lorna Landvik

'Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons' by Lorna Landvik
Angry Housewives Eating Bons Bons by Lorna Landvik is the story of five women in a book club in Minnesota from 1968 to 1998. These "angry housewives" do much more than eat bon bons. They support each other through good and bad, finding a lifeline in their friendships.

When I decided to read Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik, I did not expect it to be very good. I was afraid it would be too gimmicky or feel like a Ya-Ya Sisterhood rip off. I was delighted to find out I was wrong.

I did not want to put Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons down. It was easy to get wrapped up in the characters' lives. As I read about their experiences over three decades, I came to know the characters as if they were my friends, and it made me reflect on the experiences I have had with my own girlfriends.

Bookmark/Share this article with others:
Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo